Hot off the presses (for a hot topic here in Central California) are Bambu Batu’s “Fight the Power” t-shirts depicting our own Diablo Canyon Power Plant on organic bamboo/cotton. These shirts are printed locally with non-toxic inks by concerned citizens who are uncomfortable with the proximity of large nuclear generators close to their communities. Located in Avila Beach, the two Westinghouse 4-loop pressurized-water nuclear reactors are operated by Pacific Gas and Electric. Both units were brought online in the mid-eighties and licensed to run through the year 2025. Diablo supplies electricity to about 2.2 million consumers across the state.
There are many reasons to be a bit nervous about having a nuclear reactor in your backyard. For starters, Diablo Canyon is built on top of a well-known fault line, and is vulnerable to seismic activity and tsunamis. Ground acceleration, or tectonic shaking, could possibly cause submerged fuel rods to spill and ignite upon coming in contact with the air. The plant uses seawater to cool its rectors and has to constantly deal with maintaining its system free of kelp and marine animals. In the past, massive jellyfish blooms and other irregular marine occurrences have gummed up the works of the reactors and have compromised the safety and efficiency of plant, even taking it offline for several days.
Blueprints for Diablo Canyon that were supposed to provide structural reinforcement in the event of earthquakes were found to have major errors. In 1981, PG&E discovered that only one set of plans was used in the construction of both reactors, meaning that where workers were supposed to have switched the design off in the second reactor, they failed to do so. This resulted a “backwards” configuration, and needless reinforcement of certain areas where others were left unfortified. Currently, PG&E has asked the Nuclear Regulatory Committee not to renew its license in the wake of Japan’s Fukushima disaster until it can complete more seismic studies. This decision was partially due to repeated appeals from SLO Rep. Blakeslee asking that the renewal applications be withdrawn earlier this year.
While the probability of a catastrophe is difficult to determine, it only takes one perfect storm to cause long-term, terrible damage. Anyone within a 10 mile radius of a meltdown would be subject to direct radiation exposure through airborne fallout, and those within a 50 mile radius would be at risk of contamination from ingesting radioactive food and water. The half-life of isotopes affect the environment for generations afterward, leaving a legacy of pollution and risk of serious illness. Community grassroots efforts, such as those undertaken by the Abalone Alliance, have for years been trying to halt the construction of new plants in the state as well as closing existing ones. Those of us who wish to see a nuclear-free future for our society are supporting these endeavors by promoting cleaner forms of energy, writing our representatives, joining community forums, and wearing our hearts and thoughts on our sleeves.